The Exploration of Mars: Landing Sites

Welcome to the near future! You are entering the realm of planetary exploration, the exploration of a very special planet: the planet Mars. Twenty years after the Viking missions, we are planning to return to Mars and to find answers to the questions raised by that historic mission. We went to Mars in 1976 expecting answers -- and there were indeed some important answers -- but we found even more questions. It was mainly the orbital imaging data from Viking that, analyzed over two decades, has led us forward in our understanding of Mars while simultaneously puzzling us. What were early conditions on Mars like? How similar to Earth? For how long was liquid water available at the surface and how far did chemical evolution proceed? Where is all the water today? Did life ever evolve and, if so, did it succumb to the cold desert climate that Mars now has or did it retreat to niches yet to be identified?

We want to know the answers to these questions because they are not simply of academic interest -- the need to understand our place in the universe has been a challenge to philosophers throughout the ages. The answers to the questions posed above are within our grasp and will help shape the next steps in our pursuit of our quest to learn if we alone.

We expect to find the answers to our questions about Mars by mapping the planet and identifying the most informative landing sites, visiting them and bringing back samples. We may well have to send human explorers to some of these sites too -- particularly if the niches we need to reach lie deep underground. Our Catalog of Landing Sites contains 153 candidate-sites for various exploratory purposes. The second edition of this Catalog is now available on the Internet at (before you click on this World-Wide-Web address, please make sure you are currently connected to the Internet).

Priority Landing Sites for Exobiology Exploration on Mars

Let's go to the next map and look at the numbers on it -- they show representative landing sites. Two have been already explored : Site A and B are the landing sites of the Viking 1 and 2 stations ; Site C is the landing site for Pathfinder. Currently, none of the ten other sites -- typical of many that are being discussed by Mars scientists, has been selected for a future mission, but they are all serious candidates.

The following discussion of each site includes a variety of general, geological, exobiological and mission-related information.


Acknowledgement: The landing site descriptions are based on the Mars Landing Site Catalog. The catalog is NASA Reference Publication 1238, 2nd edition.

Just click on the desired landing site below to learn more about the candidate missions.

  1. Landed or programmed missions
  2. Candidate-Sites

For a fast access to the information, an index is on the file menu.htm

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